In January, we are honoring Cervical Health Awareness Month by reminding women to get screened for cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is more common than you might think. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2020, 13,800 cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed, and 4,290 people will die from cervical cancer. And cervical pre-cancers are diagnosed far more often than invasive cervical cancer.
Let’s talk about some ways it can be prevented and/or treated with proper screenings and vaccination.
When you are screened for cervical cancer, you'll get a Pap test (or Pap smear) and the HPV (human papillomavirus) test. Cervical cancer can be caused by certain types of HPV: When a person is infected with these types of HPV and the virus doesn't go away on its own, abnormal cells can develop in the cervix. If these abnormal cells are not found early through routine screenings and treated, then cervical cancer can develop.
• Get vaccinated: The HPV vaccine is very successful in helping the body’s immune system fight the HPV virus. The optimal age to start the HPV vaccine series for young people is 11 to 12, but it can be started as early as 9. Most insurances cover the HPV vaccine up to age 26. The FDA recently recommended the vaccine is effective for people up to age 45.
• Get regular screenings: At least every 3 to 5 years for women with a history of normal Pap smears, but more frequently for those who have had abnormal Pap smear results in the past. Someone with symptoms like pelvic pain, abnormal bleeding or abnormal discharge should seek screening as soon as possible.
• Use condoms: Condoms provide some protection against HPV, but they don’t completely prevent infection.
• Don’t smoke: Smoking has been linked to persistent HPV infections.
“The Women’s Health Center is a comfortable place to be evaluated for symptoms and to have screenings done to prevent and treat early conditions before they become a problem,” Dr. Eve Burns said. “Cervical cancer is one of those things that when it’s at a more advanced stage can be very difficult, but there are a lot of things we can do to either prevent or treat early on that can really change a person’s prognosis. If you have pre-cancerous lesions of the cervix treated, you can go on to have normal pregnancies. If it is found at a later stage, you may have to make some pretty difficult decisions.”
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call the Women’s Health Center at 518-897-2726.